Veteran Florida newspaper editor Jennifer Orsi is joining the USA TODAY Network as executive editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Florida regional editor, overseeing 18 Gannett-owned daily newspapers in the state.
Orsi, 54, spent three decades at the Tampa Bay Times, starting as a reporter in the Brandon bureau and rising to become the first woman appointed the newspaper’s sole managing editor.
Since 2018, Orsi has been the director of marketing content and communications for an asset management company. She is excited to work in the news industry again.
“I had missed the sense of purpose that I had when I worked in daily journalism and the people I spoke with at Gannett really emphasized their desire to focus on high quality journalism for the readers in Sarasota and the readers across the state of Florida,” Orsi said.
In addition to leading the Herald-Tribune, Orsi will coordinate news coverage for all of Gannett’s Florida newspapers in communities ranging from Pensacola to Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Palm Beach and Naples.
“Jennifer’s track record of impactful journalism, digital innovation and strong community ties made her a natural fit for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and larger Florida network,” said Amalie Nash, senior vice president of local news and audience development for the USA TODAY Network. “Events in Florida in recent days have only illustrated the importance of strong local journalism to our communities, and Jennifer’s clear passion for our mission runs deep.”
Hollis R. Towns, VP of Local News Initiatives and Regional Editor for the USA TODAY Network, said there were “many very qualified candidates internally and externally” for the job.
“Jennifer’s familiarity with Florida, her journalism bona fides and her ability to build teams won out in the end,” Towns said. “We are thrilled to have her leading our sizeable Florida news operations.”
Gannett has the state’s largest combined number of journalists, Towns said.
“It all starts with high-quality journalism,” he said. “We can’t grow local readership without a commitment to journalism that matters. Jennifer is the right person at the right time to lead us in these efforts. ”
Orsi moved to the Tampa Bay area from Connecticut as a young child and attended school in Dunedin. Her mother was a telephone answering service operator. Her father worked in retail sales.
A seventh-grade journalism class sparked Orsi’s interest in the profession.
“I took it as an elective and after that I was hooked,” she said.
Orsi went on to serve as the top editor of her student newspapers at Dunedin High School and Indiana University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
While at Indiana University, Orsi had two internships at the Tampa Bay Times, then known as the St. Petersburg Times. She landed a reporting job at the Times right out of college covering the Tampa suburbs and went on to cover county government, local politics and other local news. She later held a variety of editing jobs, including running a suburban bureau and the Tampa bureau, serving as night city editor and as a deputy managing editor over local and business news.
When Orsi became the paper’s sole managing editor, colleagues noted she was the first woman to hold the job. She never thought of herself as a trailblazer, though.
“I just had the chance to do good work with good people at a great newspaper and I made the most of it,” she said.
During Orsi’s long tenure with the Times, she coordinated coverage of everything from the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa to Hurricane Irma. The newspaper won many awards, including multiple Pulitzer prizes.
Orsi said she is especially proud that two recent Pulitzers for stories about failing schools and squalid housing conditions for the homeless grew out of local news coverage that she supervised, but is reluctant to take too much credit for awards.
“It’s just about good people who are dedicated to producing high-quality, high-impact journalism, and that’s what I tried to do every day,” she said.
Orsi plans to keep pushing for journalism with impact in her new jobs overseeing the Sarasota newsroom and Gannett newsrooms statewide. Gannett also owns newspapers in Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Gainesville, Ocala, Lakeland, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Melbourne, St. Augustine, Port St. Lucie, Winter Haven and Leesburg.
“I definitely think there is a huge opportunity to have an impact,” Orsi said, adding she is eager “to try to leverage the talent in all these newsrooms across the entire state for the benefit of readers all over Florida.”
A married mother of two, Orsi’s husband also worked in journalism before taking a job in hospital marketing. Her daughter recently graduated from Tulane University and her son attends the University of South Florida.
Orsi starts her new job in Sarasota on July 26. She and her husband eventually plan to move to the area. She has visited Siesta Key, St. Armands Circle, Longboat Key and downtown Sarasota, but is eager to learn more about the community and what readers want from the newspaper.
“I’m excited; it’s a community that has so many engaged newspaper readers and news consumers,” she said.
Orsi also is excited to be back in an industry that she views as providing an important public service.
“I feel like the extraordinary circumstances of the past year or so have shown us how vitally important it is to have a reliable credible source of news and information in our communities,” she said. “To be able to continue to build on a legacy that the Sarasota paper already has for doing that, and to join such a talented team whose members are dedicated to that, it was just an opportunity I couldn’t really turn down.”
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at [email protected]